Monday, June 24, 2019

GMHA Pic Spam

I love it when the photographers have their system all set up and we can buy our pictures so quickly.  Shawn Tinkham photography had our stuff posted within a week of the show and it took me about ten minutes to pick, purchase, and download my photos.  That certainly brightened up my Monday.

I love a lot of my photos.  I wish photographers didn't always take pics of our extensions.  Our extensions are sad and I'm usually throwing the kitchen sink at them trying to get them done which doesn't make for good photos, but it helps when your horse is not turning into an inverted ostrich during the movement anymore. This is from our Second 1 debut (only test I rode with a whip so easy to tell).  My hands are a little stupid but I'm starting to shorten up my reins after the medium attempt so it's progress.

This is from our freestyle (sunny and no whip).  I love his neck in this one.  I'm pretty sure I'm trying to get him back after our lengthen and prep for the 10m half turn at the end of the ring.  Photographic evidence that our half halts occasionally work!  Anyone else think I need to drop my stirrups another hole?

Freestyle and our very nice lengthen heading back the other way.  Tail game is on point and that neck.  Oh my goodness that neck.  Totally need to drop my stirrups down.

From after our freestyle.  I couldn't resist giving him a big hug after he put his big boy pants on for me.  And Theo is sticking his tongue out.  It's not an album of show pictures if he doesn't have his tongue out in at least one.

From our overly exciting Second 1 attempt.  He may not be made for the job but he sure tries his heart out.  Got a 5.5 for this medium but I'm happy to see him trying that hard through his shoulders.  We get a little more bounce in the trot and his efforts might be more noticeable.

I'm going to try to not torture myself to much about my position issues that are still painfully visible.  Yes, yes, I'm tipped forward and crooked and my hands are possessed.  It's better than it used to be.  In a couple of these shots, I look fine.  Bit by bit we keep building.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Back at it

Theo got a couple days off after GMHA since I had Dermabond holding my scalp together and I wasn't supposed to 'perspire excessively'.  I wear a helmet, it's June, and it's NH.  Perspiring heavily is all I do, especially on my head.  Trainer A hopped on him twice to keep him from getting overly sassy and then I hopped on for the first time on Friday.

Good news, my hair knots stayed in place despite my ridiculous sweating. Not that it really matters anymore, everything is closed up and the Dermabond is separating as it's supposed to.  It itches like crazy and I'm losing my mind.

Not so good news, I have some unexpected soreness in the upper back.  It's only noticeable when I'm sitting the trot because the jarring irritates those muscles.  It appears my major muscle spasm when I got whacked isn't quite done torturing me yet.  I'm being generous with the Advil, heating pad, and stretching to help the last of this soreness work itself out.  I've got a western dressage show on Sunday and posting isn't exactly an option.  I may have to try to get a massage in for myself.  Shocker!

Theo is doing fabulous and aside from some missing hair in front of his ear, you'd never know anything happened.

He enjoyed his Friday jump school and Saturday slacker ride in our western gear, but then the dressage saddle came out today for our lesson with Trainer Z.

After seeing away show Theo in the flesh for the first time, Trainer Z had a plan.  We  jazzed Theo up and then brought him down about a dozen times until both of us were comfortable working in that jazzed up state.  I shouldn't take my leg off the second he starts to snort and carry on, that's my cue to get my leg on and get him pushing into my outside rein.  We did a lot of rapid fire transitions between gaits, within gaits, and into different movements to make him all spicy.  I had to dare to touch him with the whip when he was already firing on all cylinders which is a bit terrifying.  Then I practiced my walk and accepted the fact that jigs may happen, but I've got to put my leg on.  With that spicy, teetering on the edge of explosion walk and my legs on, that horse can do a stunning canter transition.  Some of them were tangles of legs and snorts, some went against the bridle and flailed, but a precious some were just beautiful.  The best we've done.  That's my motivation to keep doing this because as we learn to harness the spicy, powerful, reactive stud muffin that is Theo, we're going to be able to do those beautiful transitions.

We also addressed our lack of mediums.  Part of it is just power and I've been assigned to do at least 8 trot lengthens each ride to build up the muscle.  Real ones, not pretendy ones.  Longer frame, bigger steps, not quicker.  While he was jazzed up he gave me my first actual medium (about five steps of it but enough to make me yell 'whee!') so we're on the right track, we just need more muscles.

The canter got a whole regimen of stuff assigned.  First was the 10m circle, lengthen, 10m circle exercise.  Then we tacked on some counter canters in between and simple changes of lead to make sure he was staying balanced.  Then it went completely crazy and it was 10m circle, lengthen, 10m circle, centerline, halfpass to the rail, counter canter the end, back across the diagonal, repeat.  Well, guess we're big kid dressage types now!

Dressaging is very hard and Theo is very sleepy after his lesson

I've had very limited luck with the canter half pass in the past but with the lengthenings in between, Theo was popping along well enough that he could stay out of his own way.  When he got stuck in the half pass right (weaker side), I was shown how to really emphasize the bend to show him the way.  He got unstuck and managed to do his canter half passes in both directions.  I was quite impressed with the effort.  I've been assigned to do those in my dressage schools because we're going to need the extra lift they'll bring to his canter.

It's a lot of homework and it's split 50/50 between the mental and the physical.  We have to work our spicy medium walk transitions until I no longer take my legs off because it makes me nervous.  Theo needs to accept that my legs are going to come on no matter how spicy/snorty/ridiculous he's being.  All the rest is about developing the push muscles for the medium trot and the carrying power in the canter.

I won't have another standard dressage outing until August but I think I'll be picking that outing based on when Trainer Z is available.  She wants to coach a warm up or two to help me get used to warming up this spicy new Theo.  I'm totally okay with someone guiding us through this little transitional period in our lives.  As she put it, I need to think less in the warm up for a bit while I get used to the new feel.  I fully agree to thinking less.  It's really in everyone's best interest.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Second level horse

Discussing our show with Trainer Z and my clinic with Vern Batchelder brought something into focus that I didn't really expect:  Moving up was a big deal for Theo as well.

I usually hear about how big of a leap it is for riders to move from First to Second.  Many riders decide to stay at First because the leap looks too big.  But I don't usually hear about that leap from the perspective of the horse.  It's a big leap for them, too.  The power expected is different, the precision is different, the suppleness is different.  Theo has demonstrated quite nicely how much of a change can happen when you teach a horse how to think forward,  lift their shoulders, and then build up the muscles necessary.
He's always been prone to explosions when heading right.  He's hollow right and likes to fly out that left shoulder so heading right gives him that opportunity, especially when I'm prepping to canter.  We had a lid on it and had a string of shows with no problems since I could prevent it by basically not powering up his hind end.  You don't have to power up for working gaits.  You absolutely do need that power to collect.  I've had to let some of Theo's inner stud out to make the collection possible.  The explosion problem is back with a gusto.  Trainer Z shrugged and said welcome to Second level.

She wasn't the only one that said that.  Vern also said that our sudden submission issues were expected at this point in his training.  I've turned up the pressure while encouraging him to be a big, powerful pony.  There are going to be moments where we get it wrong and with all that power, wrong may include some dramatics.

Why don't any of the books or magazines discuss this part of moving up the levels?  Trainer Z did warn me that I might see an outbreak of naughty behavior as we jazzed him up, but I thought that was just Theo.  I didn't think it was a common thing across horses moving up to this stage in their training.  As I ask around, I'm finding that many people have outbreaks of trouble at this level.  Second is the start of Big Boy dressage and it's a bit of a learning curve to manage all that positive tension so it doesn't flip over to negative.

So I guess the misbehavior is a good sign if we want to keep going?  Because we now have the energy and enthusiasm?  But I could do with a bit less exuberance in our tests.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

GMHA: Lessons learned

GMHA was a successful show for us.  We hit both of my goals and are now officially half way to our Bronze.  But lessons were learned.

Photo from our Vern Batchelder clinic because I'm running out of media

 - Pony does not always straight tie, especially when he's feeling fidgety.  Take more precautions to ensure he can break away if tied.

 - Pack one more bag of shavings then you think you need.  Good gravy that horse pees a lot.

 - For every night that Theo is in a stall, increase your warm up time.  Pressure builds as he spends more time indoors and all the handwalking in the world doesn't seem to stay ahead of the accumulating pressure.  Don't stop early thinking he'll be tired.  He won't be.

- Theo can reach a surprisingly large arc around his stall, make sure absolutely everything is clear of that area.  Especially snacks, breakfast, sodas, saddles, blankets, hay, lead ropes, and absolutely anything that will fit in his mouth or that you do not want drooled on.

 - Lunging will be a thing from now on.  The new, improved, powerful Theo doesn't get tired from warm ups and tests.  He also has plenty of ways to express himself.  If he's staying in a stall, plan to lunge in the morning for at least 20 minutes.  We all know lunging at shows sucks because there's never enough room but he apparently needs to let the bucks out and the other option is for him to do it under saddle.

 - Keep the freestyle music quiet so he will comfortably lengthen while going toward the speaker.

 - Not all judges will love the pony.  That's fine.  So long as the majority think you're going the right way, keep going.

 - If you think he's supple enough in the show ring, he's probably not.  He will always be a tourist and prefer to stick his nose out so he can better check out his surroundings when in a strange arena.  Stay on top of it, especially when he's lit up.  The outside rein is your lifeline when he's considering using his powers for evil.  Kick him up in that rein and don't let go.  Channel all of that beautiful power and energy into something good.  He will let you.

 - Drill your figures until you and Theo can both do them in your sleep.  No more egg shaped 10m circles or oblong 15m circles or loops that overshoot center because you're distracted.  You can't spare the points and the judges are no longer ducking behind their hands during your tests.  They notice.

 - When in doubt, do what Trainer Z said.

 - Don't fall for the 'rum tasting at the tack shop' trap.  Rum, a credit card, and a tack shop don't mix.  Though the new saddle pad, breeches, show shirts, stock tie, stock pin, sweat scraper, and ear net are lovely.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

GMHA: Freestyle

Second day of competition had me doing another Second level test and my freestyle.  It was a pretty big freestyle day with multiple classes.  Sound checks started Friday night and kept going between classes right through to the lunch break as Freestyle was starting.

Some of my friends thought Theo needed some extra decoration

I was assigned a 10:06am soundcheck and dropped off my disc with the secretary.  I had somehow wrapped my head around the idea that my Second level test was after the freestyle and only realized I had a 10:53am test at 9:23am.  Theo was not groomed or braided and had enjoyed a big roll during his morning handwalk.  UGH.  I slammed his braids in while Trainer A got him cleaned up.  I made it to soundcheck on time, wearing my show clothes and with my tacked up pony following along.

The very nice young lady running the music asked for my disc and I said she already had it, I turned it in the night before.  Nope, she didn't have it.  I hustled off to the secretary who gave me a disdainful look and announced she'd sent all the music down already.  Yes, they lost my music.  I fortunately travel with a back up and ran like a demon to Barn C to retrieve it from my trunk.  I then ran all the way back to the sound booth (in my riding boots) to hand it over.  I listened to my music, had them turn the volume down a couple times, and then hustled off to make it to warm up for my Second level test.

I swung on Theo and he felt lit up.  I quickly realized I had a situation and chucked my whip.  I asked for a canter and he tried to blow his top.  It was a very crowded warm up and I wanted to keep a lid on the situation, but he had decided that he was a fire breathing dragon that didn't understand half halts.  Or whole halts for that matter.  His second jump buck combo was apparently very athletic and rather frightening for my friends on the side lines.  It didn't rattle me much because there was no spin, he wasn't trying to ditch me, but it didn't bode well for the test in front of the judge that gave me a 60% at First.

Lo and behold, I heard Trainer Z behind me.  She'd come over to see my ride and started calling orders for me to get the situation back under control.  Shorten your reins, put on your leg, and do transitions until he stops being over reactive.  Haunches in, shoulder in, make him accept your leg.  I managed to get Theo mostly under wraps and took him in for his test.

There were things I liked.  He was going forward, the circles were nice, and he behaved himself through large parts of the test.  We had one big blow up but it was contained to a single movement.  I didn't push him down to his First level frame and didn't try to squash the energy.  Trainer Z was happy to see me be brave and keep him up rather than shutting him down.  She'd predicted we'd have rides like this as we progress.  We spent months jazzing him up and now we're letting it out in strange arenas.  Sometimes it's going to boil over.

I did not at all enjoy him blowing his top, ignoring half halts, or feeling like I didn't dare ask for a real medium, but it was a good learning experience for both of us as he ups his energy levels.  This energy level is much more appropriate to Second.  Let's just say I don't have to kick in the canter these days.  Everyone has a bad test sometimes.  We were tense and distracted, he thought my input was unnecessary and locked me out of the bridle at times, but we got it done with minimal drama and some movements that were actually good.

I got a 55% and a very clear message that this judge thought we had no business at Second.  Not much of a surprise when she didn't think we were ready for First the day before and that test didn't include airs above the ground.  It wasn't just the 'creative' canter work.  Every trot movement got a 5.5 or lower and we got a 5 for submission.  OUCH.  Well, 2 out of 3 judges think we're ready for Second and the one that doesn't think we're ready is the most junior, so I'm not going back to First.  If she was the only feedback I got from the weekend, I'd be crushed.  When she is the minority voice, I'm better able to shake off the bad ride.  That's all it was, a bad ride.

I decided that I should get on early and work Theo down before the freestyle.  He doesn't need that level of energy for a First level test and a blow up in a freestyle is disaster.  You end up off from your music and it's hard to get back on track.  I hopped on an hour before our test and started walking to warm up.  He flipped out for unknown reasons and started flying backwards.  I jumped off of him and told a friend to meet me at the lunging area with my lunge line.  I'm not sitting through that nonsense.

Theo put on a fifteen minute display of rears, bucks, and scoots.  It was so ridiculous.  At the point he reared straight up, I realized I had made the only safe choice and that I might be scratching my freestyle.

After the nonsense he started trotting around like normal, licking and chewing.  I jumped on and headed to warm up without giving him a chance to recharge.  Another fifteen minutes of trot and canter under saddle seemed to have his brain firmly between his ears again.  Just barely in time for us to head in as the first test after the lunch break.  Theo was still scooting a bit and jumped at some dumb things like the judge's bell, but he hit centerline like a pro.

Please ignore the commentary from my friends, I'm very appreciative they took this video for me

68.5% and third place behind two pros that scored in the mid-seventies.  I had so much fun with my freestyle.  My music is great and lots of people react to it positively.  At this point, the actual test is easy for us and we can enjoy it.  We bobbled our medium walk due to his higher energy levels and one of our circles was straight up wonky due to me losing my starting point, but otherwise it was solid.  So proud of the second canter lengthening.  We still have bracing in the leg yields but it's getting better.  I was able to get him back and the crossing was good.  If I could get him to not go above the bit the second I ask to go sideways, they could really be a highlight. 

We had the same judge from our last show at B and we got a 69.3% from her.  Lost 1% due to increased tension (and a wonky circle) but that's fine.  The judge at C was less sold on our music and we got a 67.6%.  It was really the only place where their scores differed.  I knew the pop music with lyrics was a risk so it doesn't bother me.  Choreography continues to be a solid score for us and since it's x4, it's important.  Harmony is also a very consistent score for us.  What can I say, we generally get along and he looks happy to be there.

After a long day, Theo was happy to go cuddle up in his stall while I sat on the hill and watched the FEI freestyles.  After the show was over, my friends hosted a taco night followed by s'mores.  Showing with friends is a lot more fun than showing alone.

Friends take amazing pictures like this after the Freestyle when his earnet came off for tack check

The forecast showed 100% chance of rain for Sunday and I saw that I had the same judge for Second 1 yet again.  I'm not planning on selling Theo, but there's no need to go back in front of a judge that really does not think we're ready for the level and put another mid-fifties score on his record.  I'm all about doing tests for practice, but not in the rain after Theo's been in a stall for three nights.  I decided that I would just scratch that last test.

And then I got clobbered in the head with a board so it was moot, but at least I didn't miss any tests I expected to run.  My friends packed us up and got Theo home.  Unfortunately that means both of my music discs are gone and I need to make new ones before our next outing.  Gross.

But we hit both of my goals for the show, so I'm calling that a win.

Monday, June 17, 2019

GMHA: Second level debut details

I had two things I wanted to get done at this show:
  • Debut Second Level
  • Ride a freestyle in the White Ring
My Second level debut came up first.  I was an absolute nervous wreck, not helped by the fact I got a 60% in my First 3 test Friday morning.  OUCH.  It was flat due to mooing cows and me not wanting to let a certain someone look around but come on.  60%?  The judge didn't like our connection and didn't think we had the training to be ready for the level.  I haven't gotten a 6 for submission with Theo since before Mary Howard, especially when he didn't put a hoof wrong.  5's for both leg yields.

And in three hours, I was moving up.  Hurk.

Trying to teach Theo dressage in a more visual manner, watching the FEI classes while hand grazing on the hill over the White Ring

I almost scratched.  So many times I wanted to stop by the secretary and scratch.  It got worse when I realized that not only did they put Second 1 in the White Ring after all the FEI classes, we were going to have two judges.  Who does that to Second 1 riders?!  We're all melting down, trying to figure out how to sit the trot, wallowing in the great abyss of dressage training, and they stuck us in the FEI ring right after the Young Riders trying to qualify for the NAYC with a swath of spectators and kept both judges on duty.  General consensus was that this was fairly evil.

I warmed up as best I could while trying to not hurl over my horse's shoulder.  I carried my whip and tried to be brave and get him right up in front of my leg, even if I was seeing some signs of naughty Theo lurking.  The more I turn up the dial, the more often naughty Theo appears.  He's much bigger and stronger than he used to be and he doesn't always use his powers for good.  But our connection is terrible if he's not way up in front of my leg so he got a tap tap and I held on to the barrel of TNT I was creating.

They finally sent me in and I very clearly told myself 'whelp, doesn't matter if you can do it or not because you're already doing it so fuck it, give them a show'.

 Second 1 at GMHA, June 14, 2019

Holy crap we look like we belong!  Our mediums are quite sad but that shoulder in was on point and the circles were actually 10m.  Theo was so excited to finally do his walk to canter in the ring that he had a momentary flail when I cued.  Trainer Z saw and has a plan for us to fix our new inability to have a polite walk to canter.  Spoiler, it involves me not letting go of his face in the medium walk because I'm afraid he's anticipating the transition.  He also decided to shrug off my half halts for some transitions because he's a big boy now and doesn't need my input but we kept the wheels on.

Two judges in the big kid ring, I was only praying to squeak out a 60%.  We got a 63.2% from the judge at C and a 60.8% from the judge at B.  62% and halfway to our Bronze!  We were also 4th out of 10 for the class but moved up to 3rd when they split the Adult Ammy division out.  Success!  We did it!  We solidly, in the big kid ring, did it!

We have so much homework to do but at least I can confidently say that he is now a Second level horse.  Not confirmed, but he can show in collection and not be laughed out of the ring even when there are experienced judges (Dorothy Demis at C (R), Sara Schmitt at B (S)).  We got a 6.5 and a 7 for gaits, so that box is checked.  We got a 7 on one of our shoulder ins and 6.5 for our reinback.  A 3 and a 4 for the 'creative' canter depart which really hurt our score, but when we did the transition as practiced we got a 6.5 and a 7. 

Mediums averaged about 5.5, so we know where to focus in the coming months.  He's got a medium in there, it's just slow to build and more quick than ground cover.  I want to at least get a consistent 6 there and get our impulsion score back up above 6.  We also got a 6 for submission.  Creative departs do not help there but for the level, he needs to be a bit more elastic in the connection and not shrug off my half halts because he is excited to show off his moves.  We can do it all day at home but he is a different beast away from home and I'm less effective when I'm a shivering, nervous wreck.  We'll get better.

It's been a long time coming but we're now showing at Second level and I feel like we're in the right spot.  We're still flailing, we've got a lot of work to do, but we definitely belong at this level.  I feel much more confident that I'll get my other Second score this year.

Next up: Freestyle in the White Ring

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fundamentally stupid

I am back from my show.  GMHA is such a lovely break from technology, but it's not ideal for writing up blog posts.  I'll do the full review of how my weekend went as the week goes by.  It was good (62% in my Second 1 debut and a third in a big freestyle class!), it was bad (55% due to airs above the ground in another test), and it was ugly.

My boots made a mess of their nice, clean floor

I have to get through the ugly part right now.  I did something so fundamentally stupid that I look at past self and wonder just how tired and fried I was. Fourth day of the show so pretty darn exhausted.  I'd already decided to scratch my last test due to the judge in that ring really not liking us (a 60 at First level?  Ouch.) and the forecasted steady rain.  I'd rather not get another lousy score while in the pouring rain.  I tossed Theo his breakfast, freshened up his water, and started prepping for departure.  He was absolutely filthy so I wanted to brush him.  It's dark in his stall, so I took him out to park next to his OTTB neighbor at the rail that winds around the barn.

I know it's not a secure place to tie, but the visual is usually enough for Theo especially with company.  Wrap the line around loosely and he stands.  He proceeded to wander off several times.  I kept putting it back, gave it an extra wrap, told him to stop playing with it, etc.  He spooked at something, pulled back sharply, and the damn lead line locked rather than slide loose.  It was my new betathane lead and it stuck to itself when it crossed over itself.  I must have been more tired than I thought to not notice that happening between Theo and I moving it.  It must have been when I tried to tuck the tail away from him so he'd quit sucking it in like spaghetti.  I had enough time to think 'oh fuck' before he yanked the board off and hit me with it on his way back to his stall that was fortunately right behind him.

Theo is fine.  He's got a scrape behind one ear from his halter.  He's sound.  My neighbor was able to grab him as he tried to get in his stall, unclip his lead, and he let himself in.  But all reports, he is none the worse for wear and is trotting off sound.

I, on the other hand, was on the ground in the ditch.  EMT was called, accident reports were filed, and I was sent to the hospital with Trainer A due to head trauma and potential concussion.  I was also bleeding.  I never lost consciousness, no headache, and completely coherent.  Remembered all my stats for the forms, etc.  Once we got to ER, I rattled off all my stats for them and apparently impressed them enough that I didn't even get an X-ray.  I did, however, have to get the 2cm cut on my head closed up.

They used this fascinating technique using my hair to do it since I'm so needle phobic (my Fitbit says my pulse hit 185 when they said it needed to be closed up).  They actually knotted my hair over the cut, then used Dermabond (superglue) to close it all up.  No needles, no staples.  Just four knots in my hair with some glue.  I have a picture of the end result, but there's some blood so I'll spare everyone (if you're really curious I can share it).  I'm affectionately referring to it as my macrame.  Apparently it's a technique for kids that are freaking over staples and I was lucky enough to have a very senior nurse that knew the technique.  I also have a cut behind my right ear and I'm bruised to kingdom come from my right hand up to the top of my head, but overall very lucky.

Of course the whole thing is the only thing anyone in that barn is talking about right now.  I was an outcast before, this is going to be worse.  I was stabled between two very high end barns.  I'm now known as the idiot that tied her horse to a board and then got clobbered with it.  Apparently my neighbors were all very happy to discuss it at length with my friends when they went to retrieve Theo for me.

We already stuck out a bit

35 years with horses.  I know better.  I needed to have him tied at the post, not the rail.  His halter would have snapped if he'd hit the post.  But I just parked him next to the OTTB with my tired brain saying 'you're not tying him'.  And I didn't mean to be.  Especially with him getting loose every time I turned my back, him getting stuck was not my concern.  But somehow I got that lead line crossed under itself and boom, disaster.  I'm going to be mad at myself for this mistake for a long, long time.  Especially when I've taught so many people how to properly tie in that situation.  I put my horse and a lot of other horses in danger.

But Theo's fine.  His vet will be out to double check and his massage therapist is already scheduled.  He loaded like a champ for everyone and is safely in his field.  I'll see him in a couple days once my swollen ear and goose egg are down enough I can get my helmet on again.  We were heading into our summer break anyway.  Just a western show on June 30, then summer camp time.

It'll take me that long to get up the guts to be seen at a dressage show again.